Skip to Content »

Serious crime rates (2)

  • February 1st, 2008

My list taken from January violent crime headlines illustrates the key difference between our crime risk as a New Zealanders, and the risk in other English speaking countries. The January crimes come from all over the country. This is no anomaly. Outside the ghetto of Manukau we are more at risk of bashing, burglary, robbery, rape and murder in provincial areas. 

People in comparable countries are most at risk in their biggest cities.

The difference is so great that even the Manukau figures can not bring our national averages within international norms for the relationship between city and other figures. Your risk of being a victim of serious crime in Wellington is a little over half that of a resident in a small town in Bay of Plenty or Northland, and two thirds of a Hawkes Bay dweller. In one recent year the Central Police district (including Wanganui, and Manawatu) murder rate per 100,000 matched that of New York. That was a blip, but the underlying violence in those areas is not.

New Zealand’s rural crime suffering risk seems to be correlated with one factor – the life patterns Alan Duff described in “Once Were Warriors”. Maori are victims and perpetrators in gross disproportion to their numbers.

But when our leafy suburbs, and Wellington, are comparatively safe, it is little wonder that the anointed who make our criminal justice rules care so little about victims. They rarely meet them.

My January list also illustrates the other feature that should most worry us.  We have a serious crime wave on the way. Ignore the “dont worry” message from the idiots who cite declines in reported total crime. The ICVS figures due out this month will confirm that it is probably the result of weary resignation and thus non-reporting.

Serious youth crime is climbing in New Zealand.  Youth crime figures tell us the future. It’s not rocket science. Truly bad young people usually get worse. It is nice to live in a country that insists on talking about “interventions” and rehabilitation, and even trying to do it. There is such a thing as rehabilitation, but the spontaneous rate is low, and it is pretty much unaffected by all the feel-good stuff.  The universal international experience is that once serious crime is a life pattern, laid down young, it only stops while the criminal is locked up, until he gets old. Old used to be 35. Fifty is the new 35.

That differences leap out of comparisons between our reported crime figures and the findings of the International Crime Victims Survey.

Look out for the latest ICVS release scheduled for later this month. Surveys are organised every four years by the Dutch government for the participating countries (most of the countries we’d compare ourselves with including Aus, UK, US, Canada, France, Japan). They allow for direct international comparisons of crime risk. That can not be done from police or court reports. Long series victim surveys are also regarded as the most reliable measures of changes in crime rates.

 NZ opted out of the ICVS for 1996 and 2000. I dogged Phil Goff for the reasons when he was Minister of Justice. I did not believe the only explanation  – cost. It emerged from follow up questions that opting out saved about $80,000 on a then $1m project every four years. Would it surprise you to learn that we had not been trending well in the previous surveys?

NZ did its own survey in 2001, on a basis not comparable to the international survey. I used to hound Mr Goff for the results of that. They were mysteriously delayed by a year, until  too late to affect the 2002 election.

I believe Mr Goff had taken fright from Tony Blair’s experience in their preceding election when the UK figures from the ICVS shocked Britain. Brits realised for the first time that on many measures the UK had become materially more crime ridden than the much despised US. New Labour got very active in crime policy.

Notwithstanding, on serious indicators other than murder the ordinary Brit is now at more risk of violence than the ordinary Yank (the significance of “ordinary” is that high murder rates in the US are materially affected by concentrations in 7 central city districts where drug dealers and other criminals kill each other).

We opted back in to the ICVS for the 2004 survey. In April 2006 our results were reported separately.

It attracted astonishingly little attention. Despite the introductory waffle it is devastating  to any claims of any material improvement.

The results of the 2004 field work for the latest ICVS were expected in mid 2007. The ICVS website now suggests late this month. The government must already know what it will say. I hope the “unexpected delay” is not a result of governments,  including ours, trying to influence the comparative conclusions.

I think we can expect it to tell us to be at least as humble to the US as the Brits. From other comparisons we come out worse than Aus and the UK on serious measures, and especially the exposure of young people. The April 2006 report correlates with a growth, not decline in serious youth violence.

By way of comparison, recalling figures last studied some months ago, youth murder in the US over 10 years declined from around 1800 per year to under 700, 80% of that decline being in the category ’stranger murder”.

Expect howls from the knee-jerk anti-Americans when people start asking why we are more often burgled and bashed than them.


  • TMC
  • February 1st, 2008
  • 3:54 pm

I haven’t seen it in a few years now but The Economist put out an annual booklet of various stats for different countries. I remember reading the per capita rate for violent assault was much higher in NZ than the US. I like to bring that up whenever I hear the anti-American comments. NZ should really take care of its own backyard before chiming in on other countries.

  • TMC
  • February 1st, 2008
  • 3:59 pm

It’s the “Pocket World in Figures.” That’s it.

I might need to get a new copy.

  • Graeme Edgeler
  • February 2nd, 2008
  • 8:58 am

In one recent year the Central Police district (including Wanganui, and Manawatu) murder rate per 100,000 matched that of New York. That was a blip, but the underlying violence in those areas is not.

Why is New York always the comparison? New York has one of the lower homicide rates of major US Cities (50th out of the 72 with a population greater than 250k). Baltimore and Detroit have murder rates 6-7 times higher.


Because before the Bratton/Giuliani reforms New York was known throughout the world as the wonderful city becoming unliveable, Clockwork Orange realized. At its peak in the early 90’s the homkcide rate was, from recollection, 48 per 100,000 (close to that of South Africa today). Now it is down around 6.
I also keep an eye on New York figures out of fascination. In 1992 the doorman at my hotel simply would not open the door when I wanted to take a short walk in the snow. He insisted that it was too dangerous, and the subway simply was not for “white boys” after dark.

In 2004 I spent some time there with my wife and one daughter. The streets were relaxed, Central Park a delight even at dusk, and the subway was our normal transport night and day. I spent a day in the Police Commissioner’s HQ in the company of some (humbled) Scotland Yard visitors. They asked many penetrating questions. Over the 12 years between my visits the formerly dominating fear of crime in New York had become minor, for solid reasons.

  • Lindsay
  • February 10th, 2008
  • 11:54 am

At its peak (1990) the murder rate in New York was 14 per 100,000. In 2006 it had fallen to 4.8

Comparing Central districts is tricky because the number of murders is very small and the fluctuations large. But if you take the average number of murders over the five years to June 2007 you get 1.47 per 100,000

In the 2000/01 year it rose to almost 3 per 100,000.

However, if you look at violence overall, at its peak New York experienced 1180 violent crimes per 100,000. By 2006 this had dropped to 435. (Add in aggravated assault and it rises to 670).

In Central Districts in the year to June 2007 there were 1,265 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

So the likelihood of being murdered in the Manawatu, Taranaki or King Country is still less but the likelihood of being a victim of violent crime is considerably greater.

(Leaving aside issues of reporting and recording)

  • Lindsay
  • February 10th, 2008
  • 12:02 pm

Correction. Aggravated assault is already accounted for in total violent crime.

  • Lindsay
  • February 11th, 2008
  • 9:03 am

The New York rates refer to state rates. Murder in NYC peaked at 30.8 per 100,000 in 1990 and has fallen to around 6 today. According to the US Dept of Justice in 2002 the overall violent crime rate in NYC had dropped to 790 per 100,000. If I use the latest NYPD stats and 2005 Census population count (not entirely satisfactory) that has now dropped to around 663 – still much lower than Central Districts.


Its good to have your fact checking Lindsay. I suspect that the murder/homicide distinction might also help explain the discrepancy between the figures I was recalling, and the stats you’ve looked up.


The report is out, the delay was not orchestrated by any government. Please not this project is about “common” crimes. these are not nessecarily the most serious. Crime is going down almost everywhere.

  • Youth of the Nation - Hamilton
  • April 6th, 2009
  • 2:14 pm

Stephen, I would like to know your views on youth crime, I’m writing an essay as we speak, and it seems important enough to mention right now.

Is youth crime on the up or declining in New Zealand ? It seems like every other day we are hearing about another youth robbery, or knifing, or someone getting beat up.

What are your views on this ?

Leave your comments:

* Required fields. Your e-mail address will not be published on this site

You can use the following HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>